Louis Andriessen: Theater of the World

by Michael Schell

Louis Andriessen is Europe’s leading post-minimalist composer, occupying a niche similar to John Adams in North America. His early process pieces Hoketus and Worker’s Union bear the influence of his friend and contemporary Frederic Rzewski, and established him as a lynchpin in the post-WW2 renaissance of Dutch classical music. He’s also an important father figure to the Bang on a Can cadre, as is evident from the constant rhythmic energy propelling his recently premiered opera (or “grotesque stagework” as he calls it) Theater of the World.

Conceived in collaboration with writer Helmut Krausser and director Pierre Audi, with video and décor from the Quay Brothers, Theater of the World is based on the books of Athanasius Kircher, a curious 17th century Jesuit scholar who endeavored to organize the knowledge of his time into a metaphorical theological framework, visualizing the world as a great play authored by God “with all of us as its actors.” The libretto cobbled from this corpus by Andriessen and Krausser is a jumble of texts in several languages—not the easiest thing to follow without staging. But that needn’t deter us from enjoying the music, which is available on a new double CD release from Nonesuch featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic and soloists from the Dutch National Opera (the work’s co-commissioners) conducted by Reinbert de Leeuw.

Scene 5 offers a good introduction: it’s mostly set in English, and features “pop” instruments (synth, electric guitar and electric bass) alongside more conventional orchestral timbres. The following scene begins with some sharp chords that hearken back to the ending of Stravinsky’s last masterpiece, the Requiem Canticles. It’s quintessential Andriessen, combining “American” playfulness and “European” historical perspective into an idiom that’s accessible and contemporary but still committed to a humanist striving, however imperfect, toward higher knowledge.

Women in (New) Music: Happy 75th Birthday, Meredith Monk!

by Maggie Molloy

Meredith Monk has secured a place in history as one of the most singular and significant voices of the 20th and 21st centuries. For nearly six decades, she has redefined and revolutionized contemporary vocal music and performance, seamlessly weaving in elements of theatre and dance to create visceral musical experiences that transcend the confines of the classical tradition.

Monk’s compositional range is as wide as her vocal one—but her inimitable creations are united in their merging of ancient and modern musical ideas. In her music, abstract vocalizations, primal rhythms, hypnotic dances, and ritualistic soundscapes come together in an intimate embrace of the human experience.

In honor of Monk’s 75th birthday today, we take a look back at three of our favorite Monk masterpieces:

Education of the Girlchild (1972):

Benjamin Button meets feminist deconstruction in this interdisciplinary (and unapologetically avant-garde) one-woman opera which traces the life of a woman in reverse from old age to childhood.


Turtle Dreams (1983):  

Sprawling vocal textures, hypnotic organ loops, and unconventional choreography are spliced together with black and white turtle footage in this surreal 30-minute film exploring themes of time and space.


On Behalf of Nature (2016):

Extended vocal techniques pirouette above a whimsical instrumental accompaniment in this wordless exploration of the space where humans coexist with the natural and spiritual world.

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their weekly playlist. Tune in on Friday, October 20 to hear these pieces and plenty of other new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre!

Astor Piazzolla: “Fuga y Misterio” from María de Buenos Aires (Steinway & Sons)
Pablo Ziegler & Christopher O’Riley, pianos

Piazzolla is a little old-school for Second Inversion, but the tango is timeless—and after a trip to Buenos Aires last year I have a newfound understanding of its intoxicating spell. Piazzolla’s sensuous and surreal tango operetta María de Buenos Aires embodies the late nights and sultry stars of Buenos Aires—but this is no bedtime story.

María de Buenos Aires tells the tale of a young woman seduced by the music of the tango, lured into sex work, plunged into the depths of the underworld and left as only a shadow haunting the streets of Buenos Aires. The “Fuga y Misterio” is an instrumental interlude depicting her ghostlike trance as she wanders the sleepless city streets toward death—her hair loose and her dreams undone.
– Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 12pm hour today to hear this piece.


Jenni Brandon: Pleistocene Epoch: The Great Ice Age (Jenni Brandon)
Jennifer Stevenson, bass clarinet 

I’m not usually a fan of music for solo single-line instruments, but something about this solo bass clarinet piece hits me just right this week.  The more I listened to this, the more I wanted to turn the speakers up to enjoy the rich bass and nuanced performance of Jennifer Stevenson.  My enjoyment of this work might also have something to do with the fact that I’m an admitted biology nerd; three of the movements of this piece bear the names of ice age fauna.  These titles alone are sufficient to spur imaginative listening (for me, at least). – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 3pm hour today to hear this piece.


David Lang: Child: I. “Stick Figure” (Cantaloupe Music)
Sentieri Selvaggi 

A year seems shorter the older you get because the proportion of a year to the whole of your life gets smaller and smaller over time.  Birthdays seem closer together with age, but as a child, the expanse between annual milestones is vast. The newness of the world to someone who has had little experience of it makes it a steep learning curve in which every moment is an opportunity to gather data about the surrounding environment.

David Lang’s Child captures some of those first explorations, and this movement, “Stick Figure,” is a sparkling retelling of the stumbles and successes of practicing the foundations for visual character representation.  The long held tones seem to mimic the endeavor of drawing long straight lines with other details popping off the main artery.
– Micaela Pearson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.


Conlon Nancarrow: Four Player Piano Studies  (Cantaloupe Music)
(arr. Evan Ziporyn) Bang on a Can All-Stars 

Conlon Nancarrow, an American composer who spent most of his life in Mexico City through a riveting string of events involving the American Communist Party and the Spanish Civil War, manually modified the rolls for his automatic player piano because his compositions were too technically precise and complex for available musicians to perform at the time.

In 2010, Bang on a Can All-Stars recorded an orchestrated version of four of Nancarrow’s 49 Player Piano Studies, all of which were written between 1948 and his death in 1992. The reveal quite a fascinating rhythmic Rubik’s Cube – keep up if you can! – Brendan Howe

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 9pm hour today to hear this piece.

Women in (New) Music: Reflections on wilderness

“The animal instinct of the world is to destroy others thinking it may build for itself out of the ruins, but the divine instinct knows that the only true structure is in building up together.

Will you be counted among those who seek to destroy, or will you seek to rise to the heights, the dizzy heights where the air is so rarefied that only the strong can stay long enough to be dissolved in an ecstasy of oblivion?

– Mary Crovatt Hambidge, Apprentice of Creation


Photo by Arthur Allen.

by Kaley Eaton
W
ritten while in residence at the Hambidge Center, Oct, 2017

Today I woke and walked out to my porch to learn that I had been instrumental in the death of a large beetle. Beetle had been attempting to cohabit my cabin at Hambidge for the last few weeks, and I had been careful in routinely transporting him to the outdoors, assuring him we would both be more comfortable with such an arrangement.

Last night, he had taken refuge in my curtains around midnight, but given the slow swagger I had observed over the past few weeks, I was comfortable he would stay put through the night. I couldn’t find him during my bedtime sweep, so I assumed he was tucked and comfy. Around 2am I was awoken by a large buzz to find him near my head, on the window. At the point, I’m certain Beetle knew this was a violation of our terms and I gently placed him in his cup and returned him to the forest.

But in the cold fog of morning, there he was, paralyzed, upturned, and slightly discolored at the bottom of the cup. A part of my evening phone conversation with Rian last night addressed the topic of insect extinction, which furthered my resolve to coexist with Beetle. And yet my discomfort with a loud buzz seems to have clouded this resolve, and now, Beetle is dead.

His death is timely and heartbreaking, as my time at Hambidge has been dedicated to the pursuit of dissolving my human ego in service of something better, something with which Beetle is likely more acquainted than I. As such, I dedicate the work I’ve done here, wilderness, to Beetle.

wilderness has lived several lives in the past few months and currently exists in two incarnations: an interactive installation for nine loudspeakers, and a companion work for headphones. The work explores my complicated geographical relationship with the United States. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, you become a person who takes volcanic mega mountains, temperate rainforests, pods of cosmically intelligent swimming superbeings, and massive, tranquil salty bays full of salmon and mussels and elegant kelp for granted. When such a person moves east to join the rat race (which has unfortunately found its way west), the resonance of this landscape is a manic buzz in the heart. A deep, bottomless, spiritual hole grows with each minute one is away from this place, until the eventual homesick Google image search for “Pacific Northwest” elicits a cascade of loneliness. This was the experience I sought to sonify in wilderness: the experience of moving far, far away from a place where wilderness still dominates humanity, and hearing it sing in the distance while enveloped by the low rumble of the sprawling urbanity of the Eastern U.S.

While I have an obviously subjective relationship to the distribution of wilderness in the contiguous U.S. as a Washingtonian and Montanan, I believe there exists, on a global scale, a longing for wilderness, a palpable guilt for what we’ve destroyed, and a deep anxiety that every choice we make is destructive. These are the ideas that propelled me to design this work and the ideas that have obsessed me here at Hambidge, where these themes are ever-present in the landscape, the geographical situation, and the spiritual residue of Mary Crovatt Hambidge’s life.

The loudspeaker version of this work is intended for a large room and indeterminate length. Nine loudspeakers are arranged on a theoretical, room-sized map of the United States as follows:

Each speaker emits a synthesized sound generated from data sourced from the University of Montana Wilderness Center. As you can guess from the image, the sound each speaker makes is representative of the relative acreage of protected wilderness in the immediate radius of the speaker. Speakers in areas with higher acreage of wilderness emit louder, higher-pitched, and more rapidly pulsating sounds. Speakers in areas with low acreage of wilderness emit quieter, lower-pitched, and more slowly pulsating sounds. All sounds were calculated meticulously to ensure a spatially accurate, relative experience of how much wilderness we have preserved and destroyed.

In doing this, my goal was to illuminate how much life exists where human life does not; we often associate sound with humanity, and I wanted to illustrate an experience where human sprawl was as silent as the death it causes. The result was a staggering realization that, while the Eastern U.S. has many alluring qualities, it is utterly drained of wild places. The resulting sound, to me, felt like the sad buzz I felt when leaving my volcanoes and rainforests.

While walking through the installation, listeners are invited to this experience. There are also thrown into a less romantic experience: with each speaker, I place a microphone that picks up the sounds the listeners make as they walk through the work. If you make a sound above a certain threshold it triggers an explosion of speaking voices and loud noises. This is intended to simulate the anxiety we feel that every move we make is, in some way, pollution.

Artistically, it bothers me that one can only experience works for loudspeaker arrays in venues lucky enough to have more than two (decent) loudspeakers. So, in pondering the eternal question of accessibility, I decided to develop a 3D version of this work for headphones that curates a walk through the installation using ambisonic panning and HRTF decoding for headphones.

Naturally, as this version allows me to take you on my own subjective experience of driving through the contiguous U.S., the piece is time- AND space-based, which adds another layer of anxiety and direction. As one walks through the West, loud mountain ranges of sound pass on either side; once one has left the West, the sounds become increasingly war-like, human-related and noisy (please see the content warning). These sounds come from news reports about animal culling, recordings from the Elephant Listening Project, and field recordings I sourced from my porch at Hambidge.

Throughout the work, a buzz that seems to come from inside the head resonates and later intensifies into a folk-inspired melody setting the above words from Mary Hambidge. After enduring the war, we drift backwards back into the wilderness, into the “ecstasy of oblivion” she theorizes.

I’m currently obsessed with the idea that my generation experiences the world through headphones. How can artists disrupt this experience? How can we create a fantastical, three-dimensional sonic reality that makes us appreciate and long for the reality that has existed before and will exist after the headphones disappear? Given the current fixation on visual virtual reality experiences, what role does sound have in the question of the future?

With all of that said, and with the memory of Beetle in my heart, I would like to invite you into my new work and also to please consider the question posed by Mary Hambidge above: will you be counted among those who seek to destroy?

As of press time, Beetle seems to have been resurrected.

KLE


wilderness for headphones is available below. Please use …. headphones! Preferably high-quality headphones. The 3D sound elements, essential to the work, will not read through external speakers.

CONTENT WARNING – gunshot sounds

This work contains sounds that may cause physical and/or emotional discomfort to those who are survivors of war and/or gun violence, or are sensitive to sounds related to violence. These sounds begin at around 4:25. Please practice self-care if choosing to listen to this work. These sounds are NOT present in the live installation version of this work; we hope you will have an opportunity to join us in the live experience with Kin of the Moon.


wilderness for nine loudspeakers will premiere Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Chapel Performance Space with the new concert series Kin of the Moon. For more information, please click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: John Luther Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

by Maggie Molloy

John Luther Adams’ newest work whispers like the winds of the Sonoran Desert. Inspired by the stillness and light of the American Southwest, “there is no one, not even the wind…” is an immersive desert soundscape scored for two flutes, strings, piano, and percussion.

We are thrilled to premiere our video of Emerald City Music in their sold-out world premiere performance of Adams’ “there is no one, not even the wind…”

The piece takes its title from a poem by the great Mexican poet Octavio Paz titled Piedra Nativa (Native Stone). He writes, “No hay nadie ni siquiera tú mismo.” (“There is no one, not even yourself.”) Adams takes this line one step further, removing even the wind itself.

“there is no one, not even the wind…” was co-commissioned by Emerald City Music, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Camerata Pacifica, the Redlands Symphony Orchestra, and Chamber Music Northwest. Click here to learn more about Emerald City Music’s world premiere performance in our conversation with Artistic Director Kristin Lee and Executive Director Andrew Goldstein.

And if you find yourself on the opposite coast, catch Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s performance of “there is no one, not even the wind…” this Sunday, Nov. 19.

 

Women in (New) Music: The Pure Cold Light in the Sky

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber series featuring three cutting-edge and iconoclastic women performers. Violist and composer Heather Bentley reflects on the music and meaning behind their debut concert, The Pure Cold Light in the Sky this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel.


by Heather Bentley

Kin of the Moon violist, improviser, and composer Heather Bentley.

It’s Armistice Day today, also known as Veteran’s Day, also acknowledged in astrology to be a particularly high vibrational day for the planetary deity Venus, who supports us to think with our hearts, and not just with our heads. It’s a good moment for reflection on this past year of seismic cultural upheaval that is continuing without abatement as I write.

The existential importance of music in my life has been magnified through the lens of all the enormous societal challenges we face. Creating Kin of the Moon is the outgrowth of a powerful desire to combine my private discipline of improvisation with my lifelong experience of presenting and performing concert music. Becoming an improviser in my late 20s was an attempt to liberate my own voice through my instrument. While I have always held composers like Brahms, Bach, and Shostakovich deeply in my heart as my best friends, there are aspects of professional classical music life that challenge my sense of creative agency.

I met Kaley Eaton on stage at the Royal Room, doing an improvised show with Steve Treseler’s Game Symphony. We’ve been close collaborators ever since, working together on her electroacoustic opera Lily, and co-creating our piece Atmokinesis for improvisers and SuperCollider processing. Leanna Keith is simply a spectacular flutist/improviser—we have been playing shows together since this summer and I couldn’t be happier with our Kin of the Moon team!

Here is our statement:

Kin of the Moon is an improvisation-centric chamber music series incubated in Seattle’s rich musical scene. Headed by violist/improviser/composer Heather Bentley, vocalist/composer Kaley Eaton, and flutist/improviser Leanna Keith, the group explores sonic rituals, promotes cross-pollination of genres, emphasizes the communicative power of specific performance locales and celebrates the creativity that multiplies itself through the collaboration of performers and composers. The artists of Kin of the Moon devote their lives to reaching higher vibrational levels through sound creation.

Kin of the Moon flutist and improviser Leanna Keith.

I was asked about the fact that our first concert features all women performers and composers. Actually, we were aiming to create the most compelling program to go with our new piece Atmokinesis and Kaley’s new sound installation wilderness, and it happens that we were very excited by Jessi Harvey’s quantum physics-inspired work The Multiverse and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Kate Soper’s Only the Words Themselves Mean What They Say for voice and various flutes.

Kin of the Moon vocalist and composer Kaley Lane Eaton.

I am inspired to work with artists who exhibit a spirit of creative inquiry and practice a discipline of collaborative generosity. That many people who hold these qualities dear are women is not surprising. There are also countless men I have worked with who are equally inspiring in this way. And there are non-binary people I have worked with who are inspiring, generous, and boundlessly creative. Our choices about who we present and who we work with have everything to do with these considerations.

Back to Armistice Day. Last Nov. 11, 2016 was very difficult for so many of us. I am fortunate to co-own and operate ELF House, a music space/artist retreat on Whidbey Island, with the magnificent composer, saxophonist, and flutist Jessica Lurie. I went up by myself after the horrific election and had the opportunity to regroup. This is what I wrote, and it feels very much like a statement of purpose about my music:

“I’ve had a moment to recoup from the dreadful election result up at my sanctuary by the water on Whidbey. Here there’s no internet yet and the sunrise pinks up the sky and water birds carry on like nothing has changed—and in this world that is true. I needed space and time to reflect on how to carry on. First of all, I want to acknowledge
my sons Miles, 19, and Aaron, 29, for their response to the debacle of this election.
Representing the two halves of the millennial generation, Aaron reminded me to stay
levelheaded and through his lead, I greatly increased my contribution (now monthly) to
the ACLU, an organization that has stood at the frontline of defending the marginalized
in the US for decades. And Miles took to the streets to protest on Nov 9. Feet on the
ground. I know my sons are aware of their privilege as white, cis, straight men of
comfortable economic status. I am beyond proud that they immediately took steps to
exert what influence they can on behalf of those who stand to lose the most under the
new administration.

For myself, I needed time for darkness. I felt like it wasn’t time for kumbaya or sentiments that we can just unify now that the election is over. Or pretend that a nice concert can heal our divisions. This is what I think today, on Veterans Day: as artists, we are aware of our ability to conjure heaven on earth. The moments come seldom, and they are hard won through the assiduous honing of our craft, but the allure of creating deep, unassailable beauty and terrible and ferocious gorgeousness from a deep vein, is what compels us in the face of economic absurdity to continue. Relentlessly. This is the truth and depth and gift that artists hold and offer. Let our vein flow for the world. Let the truth of our witness and offering stand as a real testament to the fragile and tenacious beauty of existence in this sphere. Let us always, always encourage the outpouring of our colleagues and treasure our audiences and followers.

Let us actively conspire to collaborate. Let our vision extend to radical inclusiveness of those in our midst as well as those out of sight.”

Kin of the Moon takes its name from a W.B. Yeats poem, “The Cat and the Moon.”

THE CAT AND THE MOON
by W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.


Kin of the Moon’s debut concert is this Saturday, Nov. 18 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel. For more information, click here.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Perfect Nothing Catalog by Conrad Winslow

by Brendan Howe

Photo by Kim Winslow.

Growing up in Homer, Alaska, Conrad Winslow watched his parents build their log cabin in the woods from scratch—little did he know, those building blocks would shape and inspire his future as a composer.

As with building a log cabin that is to become a home, the world Winslow creates in his debut album The Perfect Nothing Catalog is significantly more emotionally involved than rendering walls of sound from various materials. The technical choices made in orchestrating the album are perhaps less relevant than the sensitivity with which the Cadillac Moon Ensemble and producer Aaron Roche execute them. Foot stomps and sawtooth waves interspersed with cello and flute are all well and good, but Winslow and Roche’s attention to detail—along with the ensemble’s agility—give them gravity, fire, adrenaline, and airy bliss.

Winslow originally composed The Perfect Nothing Catalog as an acoustic score in 2014, but says that he “always imagined it like an abstract radio play.” He recorded an acoustic version and asked Roche to “riff on these aural objects, process them in myriad ways.” Roche did just that with distortions and elements of musique concrète, lending the piece a subtle sense of narrative.

The title work is made up of 50 miniatures, each less than a minute long and cataloged by compositional approach: “tunes” are melodic lines, modulating and harmonizing themselves, “materials” are simply musical textures, “devices” are rhythmic vignettes, “controls” explore variations on a single parameter, and “code” layers the movements together in new ways.

Though a piece as meticulously organized as this may be expected to sound clinical, the end result is full of surprises. It is music of simultaneous—rather than reflective or whimsical—experience.

The other pieces on the album, Abiding Shapes, Ellipsis Rules, and Benediction, reveal the composer’s consistency in his craft. The entire album may be enjoyed either while sitting back in an armchair with a glass of wine or while painting a giant canvas on the living room floor.


The Perfect Nothing Catalog is available for pre-order through Innova.mu. It will be released on November 17, 2017.